Marks of Discipleship and Effectiveness

I’ve been really fascinated with a conversation happening between Kevin Watson and John Meunier regarding measuring effectiveness in ministry.  Here are the basic premises for the discussion:

  1. Numerical growth is one way to measure effectiveness and faithfulness.
  2. Faithfulness and effectiveness do not always result in numerical growth.
  3. Drawing a crowd is not the same thing as gathering a congregation.
  4. Sometimes we can substitute winning praise and approval for faithfulness.
  5. Therefore, how do you measure faithful ministry?

Kevin suggests the means of grace (prayer, searching the scriptures, communion, fasting, and Christian conferencing/community) as a key to discerning whether or not a ministry is both faithful and effective.

On one hand, I totally agree with Kevin.  Living the faith is central to my life as a minister.  If I am not searching the scriptures daily, meeting weekly with my small group, praying faithfully, etc. then I am not the person I am called to be.  When I fail to do these things, I notice more frustration and confusion about the core commitments I have as a Christian and a minister.  These practices allow me to know the difference between faithfulness and going through the motions.

However, I think he’s even closer to answering the original question when he mentions trying to be more concrete about what faithful fruit looks like.

Here at Church of the Servant, we have recently started sharing the results of our vision work with the congregation.  Included in that work we have a series of “marks of discipleship” that are intended to help us discern whether we’re helping people down the road of discipleship or not.  We’re not interested in simply “drawing a crowd.”  We want people to actually become disciples.

Here are those marks, which are prefaced with the phrase, “A Servant:”

  • worships weekly
  • prays daily
  • gives faithfully
  • loves God’s word
  • embodies God’s love through service
  • grows through small group relationships
  • shares their faith with others

Of course we’re careful with how we teach and share this.  These are not the way to establish a relationship with God.  That only happens by accepting the grace of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).  However, these are several of the places God has promised to show up and meet his people.  These are faithful ways to respond to and grow in God’s grace.

Over time, we will use these marks to determine whether or not we are succeeding at the call God has placed on our lives as a community of faith.  It’s one thing to just have more people.  It’s another thing altogether to have more and more people falling in love with God’s word, connecting in deeper spiritual relationships, and embodying God’s love through service.  While it’s a challenge to measure these things, we can actually count the number of people who are using the resources we provide (bible reading plans, small group involvement, missional participation, etc.) to make educated guesses that they are meeting God in these means of grace.

We’re convinced that can lead to both effective and faithful ministry.

Rambling Update

When I finished my D.Min. degree earlier this year, I just knew that I’d have more time than ever.  Of course, that spare time was immediately filled with other responsibilities and opportunities.  I thought I’d write a quick post to update everyone on the latest events in my life.

This fall I had my first experience leading a major stewardship campaign.  We developed and tried a different approach that we were really happy with. Instead of the normal focus on the importance of stewardship as a spiritual discipline, as important as that is, we focused on the difference giving makes in the life of our congregation.  We developed four different video testimonies of individuals whose lives have been changed or transformed in the life of the congregation.  We also continually reminded the congregation of the way our giving transforms lives through our missional involvement locally and globally.  The campaign was called “Giving Changes Lives,” and we have had an incredible response, seeing increases in giving across the board for the first time in several years.  We also had lots of comments about the different “feel” of seeing how our faithful stewardship makes a difference for Christ and his Kingdom.

After the major part of this campaign finished up, I’ve been heavily involved in a visioning process for our future.  I’ve leaned heavily on Will Mancini’s book, Church Unique, which is probably the best book I’ve ever read on developing vision in a local congregation.  In the back of our mind, we’ve continued to be influenced and inspired by Reggie McNeal’s work after hearing him speak at the UMC Large Church Initiative in San Antonio.  We’re closing in on a vision framework that we’ll be presenting to our laity for final refinement in the beginning of 2011.

On a personal spiritual note, on November 30th I finally managed to finish a goal that I began on November 30, 2010.  Along with my small group, I’ve been working through a one year bible reading plan using the Life Journal.  As embarrassed as I am to admit it, this is the first time I’ve ever maintained this discipline for an entire year.  It has been a transforming discipline to say the least.  As cliche as it might sound, instead of just reading the bible for study, preaching, and teaching preparation, I’ve been reading the bible daily for personal spiritual transformation and it makes a difference.  After this year, I am more deeply committed to the God revealed in Scripture,  more fascinated with the incredible missional calling that Scripture describes and more committed to being a faithful follower of Jesus.  If you haven’t began a discipline like this, I strongly recommend the Life Journal for 2011.  If you’re like me, you’re definitely going to need a small group of committed Christ-followers to hold you accountable on a weekly basis to make sure you stick with your commitment.

Finally, life in my family is cruising right along with all the challenges and blessings of raising an 8, 5, and 1 and 1/2 year old.  We’re busier than ever and learning how much work parenting can be!  Fortunately, we have the support of a remarkable community of faith and a great family, which makes all the difference.

In Defense of the Megachurch

Lately, I’ve heard and read several conversations wondering about the megachurch.  Some question its authenticity,  others question its methodology, while some just question whether big is good.   As these questions bounce around in my head, I’m serving on staff at the largest United Methodist congregation in Oklahoma City.  Needless to say, I’ve got a little different take on the megachurch than some of the voices you hear.

Just this week we started Vacation Bible School.  Yesterday, those of us here in OKC were just about washed away in a torrent of rain, and we ended up having to cancel the first day of VBS.  As a result, several of our members who were volunteering quickly found themselves as volunteers without a cause.  In the end this was a real blessing, because I was able to have some great conversations with the folks who waited inside to avoid going home in the hardest rain.

As I was speaking to one of our volunteers, we began to talk about her children.  As we talked she mentioned a friend of her children who has experienced some hard times, but is facing those difficulties with the help of an amazing community surrounding them.  As she described the beauty of this caring community, she gestured around at our building and the people gathered there and said, “You know, this is that community for our kids, and it has been since they were little.”

In that moment, I realized something.  This family has specifically chosen to raise their kids in an intentional way, surrounded by incredible men and women of faith, and it just so happens to be here in a megachurch.  When I look at this family, I can say the same thing for myself.  I want my kids to grow up in a community of faith like the one I’m appointed to serve.

Although megachurches are bigger than the churches many of you attend or pastor, they are no less communities of faith and discipleship.  In fact, they aren’t even necessarily big for the sake of bigness.  In a very large urban or suburban area, the megachurch actually shrinks the city and becomes a smaller community of faith and discipleship within that setting.  We aren’t the big box store selling religious experiences or goods; we are a community of people, albeit a large community, who’ve said, “This is where I want my family to grow and be shaped in their faith.  This is the place where I want to live out my faith, both inside and outside the walls.  This is the place where I want to nurture Christian friendships and live out my commitment to Jesus Christ.”

Are we bigger than some of the small towns in Oklahoma?  Sure we are.  But just as people who live in those towns are shaped by the life of those communities, people here at Servant are shaped and formed into the image of Jesus Christ because of the living, breathing, faithful men and women who come here to celebrate the goodness and grace of Jesus.

Guatemala Mission

Tomorrow after lunch, I’m flying to Guatemala with a medical team from Church of the Servant.  No iPhone, no computer, no Twitter, or blogging until August 9th.  We do, however, have a journalist on our team who will be blogging his experience should he have a good enough internet connection in Chichicastenango where we will be staying most of the time.  Throughout the week we’ll be heading to rural sites to provide medical care from our home base in “Chichi.”

I’m looking forward to the trip and the opportunity we’ll have to share the love of Christ with these distant neighbors. I’m also looking forward to seeing all the ways God is at work in and among the Methodists of Guatemala.  Keep us in your prayers, and I’ll give a report when we return.

Servant Walk Update

As some of you know, I’ve been working on a video curriculum since I’ve been the Minister of Discipleship at Church of the Servant.  Each week, since I can’t teach more than one class at a time, I film a short video teaching on the scripture that Robert uses in the main service.  On Wednesdays a team of dedicated and devout folks come together to pour over the passage and listen to me teach a bit.  We then work together to see how we think God might be wanting to lead our congregation through our “simple” process of discipleship: believe, belong, and become.  On Thursdays, we post the video, and send out the compiled study guide to all the Sunday School leaders who are using the curriculum.

Out of curiosity, I went back and checked our curriculum print list from October 26th last year – my second week on the job.   We were printing 105 copies for the five classes using Servant Walk at that time.  This week we will be printing 305 copies for 12 different adult classes! 

I’m definitely getting to reap a harvest that I didn’t sow.  Others came up with this idea, and the lay team was already in place when I arrived.  In fact, my first official meeting as a new pastor here was to teach that group on my very first day!  Their hard work and vision is simply coming together in a way that’s making a big difference in our adult discipleship communities.

Working in a mega-church is very different in some ways from being in a small town two-point charge, but much of what you do is the same.  I still teach.  I still study Scripture.  In a huge congregation, one of the most important questions is finding out how to do little BIG.  This curriculum is simply a wonderful way to do the little things in a way that affects a much larger cross-section of the congregation.

Facebook Virtual Classroom

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I’m working on a Doctor of Ministry through Drew University.  I’m finished with all of the coursework, and I’m working to finish up the development on my project.  My dissertation title is “Bridging the Gap: Developing an Alternative Entry Point for Christian Formation at Church of the Servant United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City, OK.”

To make what hopes to be a long dissertation extremely short, we’ve noticed (as I’m sure most congregations have) that there are many people who never connect with Christian formation beyond the Sunday morning worship service.  It is my hope that we can develop an alternative way to connect with some form of Christian formation for those people who “fail to connect.”

I’m currently teaching a curriculum called “Servant Walk.” Each week, I develop a 4-6 minute teaching video based on that Sunday’s scripture, and then I work with a committed team of lay people to write a curriculum that’s used in classrooms along with the video.  People who otherwise don’t feel comfortable teaching have no problem facilitating the discussion in a class.  This program has grown and we’ve seen as many as 300 people using this each week in Sunday school!

So, we have proposed that this might be a good  curriculum to transfer to an online classroom.  People can watch the video, and then interact in a discussion board format with the questions from that week.  In consultation with my lay advisory team, we have decided that one of the most natural opportunities for people who might be interested in a “virtual classroom” would be Facebook.

So now we have “Servant Walk Online.”  The weekly discussion and active participation begins March 1st, but we already have 16 “fans” after two days being up and running!  We’ll see what happens.

Top Ten Differences – Small Town to Megachurch

Sometimes people ask me, “So Matt, what’s it like serving in a Church that is 5.85 times bigger than the town you grew up in?”  OK, maybe no one else actually took the time to divide the membership of the church where I serve (7086) by the population of my hometown (1211 in the year 2000), but I like to be accurate.  I guess that’s a leftover from my research days.

So, without further delay, I thought I’d give you the top ten differences between serving in a Megachurch vs. serving in a smaller two-point charge (total combined membership around 180).  These are in no particular order.

  1. I no longer can tell the difference between visitors, members, and long-time regulars by looking at the crowd on Sunday morning.  In fact, I see completely new people every single Sunday and most days of the week.
  2. I used to preach all the time and teach occasionally.  Now, I teach all the time and preach occasionally.
  3. Believe it or not, I now work with a much smaller budget!  Before, I was involved in the finance committee, administrative council, etc. for two congregations.  That meant I was in some way directly responsible for every dollar of the congregation.  Now, I’m responsible in a direct way only for my departmental budget (roughly 7 percent of what I oversaw before).  Of course, I do think that I’m responsible for the larger budget as I teach the meaning of giving and discipleship, but let’s not get too technical here!
  4. Within that vein, I no longer handle any charge conference forms or end of the year reports.   Before, I handled (either directly or indirectly) the reports and charge conference for two congregations.
  5. One of the great benefits of my new setting is working with a staff.  In our case, that means working with an incredible staff, and I would write that even if I knew none of them would read this. 🙂
  6. In the rural/small town church you find yourself much more connected with pastors of other UM congregations.  I do miss the fellowship that took place when I saw the other pastors of my former district at district events.  I had heard about this before, and it seems to be true.
  7. I now own a home, even though this still hasn’t sunk into my mind.  My wife and I have either rented or lived in a parsonage for the first nine years of our marriage, so we still sometimes say, “oh my goodness, we own this place!”
  8. In the rural/small town church, you’re never really off work unless you’re out of town.  Here, when I’m at home, for the most part I’m at home and not working (at least not in the sense of being on the phone or running back and forth across the street to the church building).  It is a little different doing all of the pastoral care for two congregations and then being on a staff with a full time department of pastoral care.
  9. Before, I saw someone from church nearly every single time I went to the store or post office.  Now, believe it or not, our congregation is large enough this still happens quite frequently.  However, sometimes they know me and I have no idea who they are!  Again, this is different!
  10. Finally, I want to end with a similarity.  In both places,  I have been incredibly impressed with the genuine faith, love of God, and passionate conviction within the people who worship in the congregations I serve.

I wondered if I could get to ten when I started this post, and I realize now that I could have probably written at least 25!  So, consider this the first ten things that popped in my mind.

Thanks to John Meunier, who suggested he’d be interested in reading something like this when we were chatting on Facebook the other day.

“You’re Invited to a Feast” A Sermon on Jeremiah 31:7-14

This year, my wife and I will celebrate our tenth anniversary. As I look back over the time we’ve been married, I think about all the important lessons I have learned. Some of those lessons began even as we were planning our wedding. Some women, like my wife, look forward to their wedding from the time they are young girls. As they eventually near the real thing, there are wedding books and magazines that are three inches thick to help guide them through the entire process. Everything from the wedding ring to the flowers to the invitation has to be just right, and these guides ensure that the wedding will be perfect. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a book…so I had to learn all of this the hard way.

It happened as we were picking out our invitations. When you’re announcing the biggest moment of a bride’s life, you simply cannot send out just any old invitation. Of course, I had no idea how important this was! So, after the first hour of looking at invitations I made a terrible mistake. I said to Nanci, “Can’t you just come back sometime and look by yourself?!” Since this is Sunday morning, I won’t try to recreate the look I received, but I will tell you that I quickly heard in no uncertain terms, “This is your wedding too Matthew Judkins…and you will have an important part in making the decisions for it.”

So, being the wise person that I am, I stayed and helped pick out invitations. And in the process of picking out invitations that afternoon, I learned a couple of very important lessons. First, a groom simply cannot be too careful in pre-wedding preparations, and second I learned that invitations are very, very important.

As we enter 2009 here at Church of the Servant, we are going to focus on the second lesson I learned that day. Invitations are very, very important!! They simply cannot be taken for granted. In fact, for the coming year we’ll be focused in a variety of ways on a single word: INVITE.

As simple as the word invite sounds, in practice it can be a little complicated. To what are we inviting people and who are we called to invite? Today’s Scripture begins to give us the answer to both of these questions as we see the prophet Jeremiah inviting people to an incredible celebratory feast.

Throughout Scripture we have extraordinary pictures of what God has in store for those who trust in him. Many times words failed to capture the magnitude of what God was doing, and so the prophets had to resort to images and metaphors to capture the full picture of God’s work. One of the central images that the prophets returned to again and again was the image of God’s Kingdom as a joyous and abundant feast – more like a wedding banquet than anything else they could imagine. When ancient Jewish people though of a wedding banquet, they didn’t think of dresses and flowers; they thought of one big party. Wedding feasts were the richest, most lavish celebrations of the ancient world: the best food and wine, non-stop music, singing, and dancing. Old and young alike, celebrating together at full throttle!

Now, hold that image in your mind as we start to think about the people to whom Jeremiah was inviting to the celebration feast. They were not in a partying mood. Imagine for minute what it would have been like to be in their shoes at this point in history. You live in a small nation on the brink of utter ruin. Powerfully destructive enemy forces have invaded your country, and you don’t know anyone’s family who has been untouched by the national disaster. Brothers and sisters have been sent into exile. Fathers and mothers have been killed, and sons and daughters have been taken as prisoners of war. Your leaders have also faced death and deportation. It’s the kind of environment that kills hope and makes the future uncertain at best. Celebration, in that environment, is beyond imagination.

That’s the situation Jeremiah was facing. What do you do when hope dies, when celebration is impossible, and when the future is in serious doubt? What do you do? It’s not too hard to relate to this, is it? Maybe you’re going through a divorce. Maybe you’ve just buried the love of your life. Maybe you’ve lost a huge chunk of your family’s wealth. Maybe your plans have been wrecked in one way or another. Maybe you have a family member going through things you never dreamed were possible. If any of those things, or countless others, can describe your situation today, you’re just the kind of person who needs to hear Jeremiah’s invitation today.

Jeremiah stared the darkness and hopelessness of a shattered world right in the face and offered God’s words…and of all things he offered a party invitation. He described, of all things, a party in God’s Kingdom – singing, dancing, the best drink, the riches foods – a miraculous party, and everyone is invited. It isn’t a party for the people who feel like celebrating, it’s a party for everyone. Jeremiah paints a picture of people streaming back home from the land where they’ve been deported – blind people, people who struggle to walk, and women who are pregnant. The people who are the least prepared to move, those who have the lowest expectations of celebration, are the ones who leading the march back to God’s homecoming feast!! Jeremiah’s invitation is a invitation to transformation. Mourning turns to joy. Sorrow melts into gladness. Jeremiah’s invitation was God’s invitation, and it was made out to everyone: no matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, no matter what you’re facing, you’re invited to the greatest feast of all time.

If it isn’t clear yet that this is our invitation too, let me point out a few more things. These people were called by streams of water. Their lives would be like a well-watered garden. They were coming from whatever they had faced to a feast of grain and wine. Both young and old were coming together to an incredible feast of celebration!! Is it an accident that we’re here today in a place we call the Celebration Center? Is it an accident today that we’re gathered for worship in a beautifully watered garden? Is it an accident that we’re looking at a table piled high with a feast even as the sound of water falls on our ears? This is that feast, and the invitation is yours…no matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, no matter what you’re facing….it’s not an accident at all.

God offers the same invitation to each one of us that he offered to Israel so long ago. James Moore once told a story about a minister in San Diego. One of the custodians called him into the sanctuary early one Sunday morning. There on the Lord’s Table he found a strange offering. There were a pair of brown corduroy pants, a belt, a pair of boots, a white T-shirt stained with blood, and a note which read, “Please listen to God,” followed by a name and phone number. The minister hurried to his office to dial the number, sensing that someone might need help. A 19 year old man picked up the phone, and told the pastor his story. The young man had run away from home and had finally hit rock bottom. He spent most nights drugged out of his mind, drifting from one palace to another, getting in trouble at every turn. Just the night before, he had been in a fight on the street, and both men came out bloodied and broken. After a trip to a nearby emergency room, he found the church’s door unlocked and he stumbled into the sanctuary. Once there, he stayed all night, crying, praying, and thinking. He asked for forgiveness and direction from God. In the darkness of the sanctuary, he told the minister he felt God’s presence like never before. He literally felt forgiveness go through his entire being. He sensed a peace that he had never known before, and he committed his life to this God he barely knew. He felt clean and fresh, as though his entire future lay before him. To symbolize this new life and commitment, he took out some new clothes from his bedroll, left the others as a kind of offering, giving God his old life. He walked out the door early that morning as a new person, with a new hope, a new future, and a new beginning.

As we begin this year, many of our thoughts turn to new resolutions and new beginnings as well. Like that young man, we’re invited to make a fresh start. We’re invited to leave our dirty clothes behind. We are invited to leave our mistakes and disappointments as well. The invitation God offers assures us that we aren’t defined by our weakness, our worst moments, or our disappointments. You aren’t defined by your addiction. You aren’t your divorce. You aren’t destined to grieve forever. You aren’t the mistakes of your life. You are a beloved child of God, and as such your invitation has been written out and I’m giving it to you this morning! You’re invited to a feast of grace and forgiveness; you’re invited to leave your dirty clothes behind. You’re invited to turn from your mistakes. You’re invited to a new beginning. And if that isn’t reason to celebrate, then nothing is!!

But, I have to warn you! Even though this all-you-can-eat gourmet feast of grace is free….it isn’t cheap. It will end up making a claim on your entire life. The invitation you open this morning, will be the invitation you will want to offer to everyone you meet! When I find a great little out-of-the-way restaurant, I tell everybody about it and you probably do too. When you find the greatest feast of all time, the feast of God’s grace and forgiveness, the party of parities, keeping it to yourself simply wont’ be an option. There’s no such thing as a feast for one!!

You may have suspected that the idea of invitation is related to evangelism, inviting others to Christ, and you would be right! But inviting isn’t about manipulation or coercion; none of you would be motivated to invite someone to misery or guilt, and neither would I! But, I can definitely invite someone to a celebration of forgiveness and grace, and I know you can too. A wise Christian once said, “evangelism is simply one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread,” and that’s still true today! It’s about one confused person telling another confused person where to ask their deepest questions. It’s about one lonely person telling another lonely person where to find relationships. It’s about one hurting person telling another hurting person where to find care. It’s about one person who has feasted on Christ’s forgiveness and grace telling another person who needs forgiveness and grace just where it can be found. You don’t have to have all the answers. All you have to do is invite people into God’s presence, the one place where the answers to life’s hardest questions will always be found.

You’ve received your invitation to the feast. It’s a place to start over. It’s a place to find the grace and forgiveness we all so desperately need. It’s place to commit your life to Christ. It’s a rich garden, where celebration is not only possible, it’s expected! It’s a place to invite your friends, because this feast never ends…no matter who they are, no matter what they’ve done, no matter what they’re facing. Come to the feast, and then go and invite everybody you know, because as I learned a long time ago, invitations are very, very important.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Merry Christmas!!

Yesterday, I helped in three different Christmas Eve worship services: 3:30, 6:00, and 8:00.  It was wonderful to see so many people coming to worship on Christmas Eve!  It doesn’t matter how many Christmas Eve services I attend or lead, I always get excited and go with a sense of anticipation.  We shared Holy Communion with over 2,000 people in these services.  Some were rejoicing and some were hurting, but both connected with Christ in a special way. 

This morning we woke up to find that Santa apparently got our new address and left the kids a bunch of cool presents.  The hits of the day are the Batman Cave, the Easy Bake Oven, and a Furreal Cat, who we’ve named Lily.  Ever the romantic, I bought Nanci a new powercord for our Powerbook G4 Apple and an OU necklace.  I got a shirt a couple of weeks ago and this morning I got a coffee mug handpainted by Emma.

We’ll be getting ready, packing up, and going to Talihina here in a little bit to be with my Mom and my brother’s family this evening.  We’ll go to Nanci’s parents tomorrow and continue the celebration until coming back Saturday night! 

It’s been a busy season, and I think Christmas came faster than ever before.  It’s been a crazy year, but I’m sure next year will be even crazier!

Merry Christmas to all of you and great blessings in the New Year!!

Bible Study Interests?

One of my ongoing responsibilities in my new position is teaching a fairly in-depth bible study each week.  On Tuesday morning at 6:30, I have been walking through Paul’s letter to the Romans with a group of about 60 men.  Later, at 9:30, I teach about 65 women the same material.

We’re about to come to the end of Romans in the men’s group and that means we’ll be heading on to something new.  I’m not sure what direction I want to go at this point, so I thought I’d enlist your help!  Which of the following books would you most like to study?  This list is selected based on a couple of criteria, primarly what our groups have already covered (Romans and Matthew most recently) and my personal interests.

So, here ya go!  If you’d like to add some comments for your reasons, feel free to do so in the comment section below.  Just as a note, if we choose something like the Psalter it will not be a three year study but instead will focus on some of the theological highlights.